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Lent Five - The great cycle of Life

Like many of us in Australia and the southern hemisphere I have had reason of late to drive along the various highways and byways where we had bushfires in November and since. And already the green is shooting. Plants that were dead are reshooting, seeds burst open by extreme heat, have put out new growth even without significant rain.  And for those of  you in the northern hemisphere I hope you are seeing green shoots from the cold and apparently dead earth! It is a beautiful image of the miracle of Easter – out of death comes new and abundant life. (Lent Five. Jeremiah 31-31-34; John 12:20-33.)

It is the image Jesus himself used to explain his forthcoming death to those who were outside the Jewish faith: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” It is deceptively simple – we know that if a grain of wheat grows then it will bear 5, 7 or 11 grains. And yet this simple metaphor works at many levels.

 

John was clear that Jesus’ human death meant that the Spirit would come and be given to the disciples that they might grow in faith and power. Scripture also bears witness that after the human death of Jesus the risen Christ came to be known and followed far outside his small world. Fruit indeed. Fruit in a numerical sense – the power of the spirit to the nth degree, and an increase in number and geographic terrain.

 

The image of the seed that must fall and die also speaks to that great universal truth that death is an essential aspect of the great cycle of life, death, and new life. Many ancient religions had ways of understanding this cycle of eternal life. And in using an image that was not particular to the Hebrew religion Jesus is able to speak across cultures and time this difficult truth – that we too are called into life through suffering, death and resurrection.

 

Not only is it true of the great cycles of the earth and the great religions but also of the individual soul. We all have seasons – some joyous, some serene, and some deeply troubling as we travel with a heaviness or uncertainty that in sometimes described as a dark night of the soul, a time of apparent death and decay. And for those times, whether they be at Lent or in our own season of fallowness and struggle, this is a beautiful image of renewal, resurrection and recreation.

 

What might it mean for us, for our soul, to die with the seed that we might rise with the new blade? Like the seed we are called to give ourselves to the darkness of the earth, to apparent inactivity, to dissolution. We now know that the hard protective outer coating of the seed must die/dissolve in order for the seed to germinate. The seed must in some sense cooperate in it’s own death.

In a world that desires light, health, years without end, we are called to give ourselves to darkness, decay and pain and to allowing our known self to be eaten away at.

 

Having decided and determined to give ourselves to this process we then must allow ourselves to be. To be emptied, hollowed out, wounded, to allow pain to be painful. No more avoidance and denial, no more reframing it as OK or a learning opportunity or anything else. Allowing pain to be what it will. Our own particular pains and the pain of the world. Instead of turning away we turn toward pain and embrace it to our heart – this is what Jesus did in his cruxifiction – he embraced the pain of the world and made it his own.

 

Pain and the possability of death can have much to teach us if we allow it. Pain can help us to understand and have great compassion for others in pain. Pain also helps us to understand pleasure, both by contrast, and also by sensitising us to what is truly precious in life. Pain also strengthens us and builds up our capacity for endurance and perseverance, character and faith.

 

And beyond pain is nothingness. Beyond the pain of the cross was the nothingness of the tomb. For some of us this is more frightening than pain – the void is the most terrifying. To experience nothingness, or to invite nothingness to experience us, we must give up all our preconceived ideas of our selves, our purpose and importance, even our ideas of God.

And trust that in the nothingness, beyond my mind, is the reality of God. To trust that this year too Jesus will rise from the death of my too small mind, my too limiting beliefs, my too rigid faithfulness. Finally, when we have forgotten why we are undertaking this journey of suffering and death, there is the darkness of death and nothingness.

 

And in such darkness there is the restless urge of life eternal, the pushing of the bud to the surface and the root deeper yet into the dark stuff of life. For we give ourselves to dying not to be dead but to be fully alive.

 

And so like Lazarus, still in bandages, we stumble toward the light, we feel ourselves a tender shoot, vulnerable to forgiveness and healing. As Matthew Fox expressed it: “a truly emptied person is so vulnerable to beauty and truth, to justice and compassion, that they become a truly hollow and hallowed channel for divine grace. “

 

So do not be afraid of the pain and the emptiness that yawns before you in these last days of Lent as we draw near to the garden of Gethsemane and to Golgotha. Trust yourself to the one who has gone ahead of us through death into life. Do keep your selves and each other in prayer as we dare to enter the place beyond prayer.

Even so, come Lord Jesus show us how to stumble from pain and death to new life.

 

 

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